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Irish pro-lifers have banner night in debate over abortion referendum seen by huge audience

by | May 15, 2018

By Dave Andrusko

RTE presenter Claire Byrne had to ask members of the audience to ‘refrain from calling people liars’ after many heated exchanges between audience and panel members on the RTE Eight Debate. Video: RTE

What a difference a day makes. And what a difference a chance to make the case for life in front of a large audience unfiltered may make.

Pat Leahy writes about abortion and particularly abortion polling data for the pro-abortion Irish Times. He is one of the very few reporters who makes even a passing effort to be fair.

Yesterday under the headline “No sign of shift in abortion referendum that No campaigners need,” Leahy all but wrote off the pro-life forces working to prevent passage of a referendum to excise the 8th amendment to the Irish Constitution which provides equal protection to mothers and unborn children. (They are often called “anti-repealers.”)

Leahy wrote

None of this means there can’t be a change in the campaign as it enters its final stage. But it does mean it is hard to see where it would come from. For now, anyway, it’s advantage repeal.

In fact, he had offered one chance, which was captured in the story’s subhead: “Tonight’s RTÉ debate a chance for anti-abortion groups to influence swing voters.” (RTÉ is the national public service broadcaster.)

Lo and behold, today’s headline for Leahy’s story is “Big viewer numbers for RTÉ referendum debate make it a good night for anti-Repealers.”  The debate achieved a whopping 35% average audience share.

The lead brilliantly captures what pro-lifers had hoped to gain from last night, especially in light of how their message has been ruthlessly censored. Leahy also mentions their last-ditch grassroots campaign which they believe can turn the tide. Leahy writes

Monday’s televised debate on the abortion referendum has provided a significant fillip to a No campaign that was desperately in need of one.

No campaigners had a bad week last week with the moves by Google and Facebook to cancel or restrict their plans for a huge online advertising campaign in the final days of the campaign.

But they were enthused by the RTÉ debate, and have embarked on a postering and leafleting offensive to complement the final canvassing push as the referendum campaign heads into its final, decisive phase. …

Very strong viewing figures for the programme on RTÉ will further encourage anti-Repeal campaigners.

Why was last night so important? The entire media complex is (a) in favor of repeal and (b) operates as an uncritical megaphone for every government complaint against the pro-life opposition. Last night gave the “retain” side a chance to get their message through the normal media filter.

Apparently it was a rock ‘em, sock ‘em debate. And the audience stayed with the debate which was very significant for Leahy.

“This suggests that viewers were not turned off by the combative nature of the exchanges, or by the audience participation,” Leahy writes. “It also means that a lot of voters will have seen a good night for the No campaign.”

The other principle reason pro-lifers did so well was the caliber of the major speakers. Leahy writes

The No side was better prepared and better organised for the debate and, in Maria Steen of the Iona Institute, they had the best performer on the night. The No supporters in the audience were more enthusiastic for their side’s contributions, and antagonistic to the Yes side’s speakers. In a live environment, this matters: the Yes panellists looked quite taken aback for much of the debate.

This was especially so for Dr Peter Boylan, the obstetrician who has been one of the most prominent Yes campaigners so far. Confronted by an audience that was partially hostile, another obstetrician and the debating skills of Ms Steen, Dr Boylan had an uncomfortable time.

Leahy concludes the repeal side (the Yes side) still has a clear advantage with the May 25 referendum rapidly approaching. That being said he concludes

Both sides say the campaign is there to be won and lost. RTÉ plans another debate next Tuesday while TV3 has said it will host a referendum debate next Wednesday, two days before polling. Decision time approaches; expect the heat to rise.

Categories: Ireland